What I know about art could be written on the back of a postcard. My approach is simple: if it speaks to me, I like it. If it says nothing, then no matter how much the artist is revered by others, no matter how many times they’ve been exhibited or how often they’ve been critically acclaimed, I can’t get excited.
I go to exhibitions of work by the greats so I can decide whether they speak to me. So far, I’m drawing blanks. While individual paintings speak – like Whistler’s Reading by lamplight (which is technically an etching), or Van Gogh’s Head of a skeleton with a burning cigarette, or Monet’s The Magpie – I cannot say that I’m a fan of any one painter’s body of work. I don’t prefer a particular style, or rate a particular form (although I am rather partial to pen-and-ink). But that might be about to change.
A couple of years ago, a young Hungarian friend of mine, Timea Klincsek, introduced me to the work of Ealy Mays. She was quite excited about it. Living in Paris at the time, she had met Mays through a Polish friend Barbara Brzoska, who was, in a sense, his agent. Mays and Brzoska had met in a bar one night in 2012 and got to talking about art and broken hearts. She went to see some of his exhibitions and became a fan. The following year, when Mays had a falling out with his agent, Brozska stepped in and began organising exhibitions for the artist around the city. In 2014, Klincsek joined what is now the Ealy Mays Attelier (EMA) team and, together, the two young women restored Mays’ faith in agents. They collaborated with rising stars in the fashion and jewellery world to create events that appealed to diverse audiences. Brzoska brought with her a background in Art History and her familiarity with the Parisian art scene, while Klincsek, having studied Fashion and Journalism, added new strengths to the team. [Official website: ealymaysatelier.com]
The two young women were impressed with Mays’ honesty. He, in turn, showed them a side of Paris they wouldn’t normally have seen. He introduced them to American, Russian, and Mexican art history, and through his social and political commentary, exposed them to new worlds. ‘His work doesn’t just reflect his own community, but captures experiences of many different cultural backgrounds, making his artwork a never-ending journey. There is always something new to discover both in his art and in his character’, says Klincsek. Mays does what other artists often fail to do: he makes people think.
He is fond of saying that ‘every new idea comes from an old book’. And while he often quotes his father’s advice of imitate, initiate, and create, he insists on originality in thought, form, and composition. Resisting the urge to conform and caring little about the opinions of art critics, Mays’ originality is what makes him special.
Born in 1959 in Wichita Falls, Texas, USA, Mays started painting at the age of 4. When he was 8, he had a piece exhibited in the White House. Yet despite such auspicious beginnings, he would forsake his passion and choose instead to follow the path carved out by his father and two older brothers, medical doctors all. He opted to study medicine at the Universidad Autónoma de Guadalajara in Mexico, so that he could indulge his passion for art. While he studied, he painted. His Last Train to Chihuahua, an evocative portrayal of a revolution-era train arriving at a station, received a lot of coverage by the local press.
Back in the USA, his work came to the attention of Jacob Lawrence, the most widely acclaimed African-American artist of the twentieth century. In a letter of reference to the Studio Museum in Harlem, Lawrence described Mays as a ‘pure painter’, emphasising his natural talent and his audacity in never following the crowd. Not bad, considering Mays hadn’t received a whit of formal training.
In search of an ‘intellectual environment to think, to breathe, to paint’ Mays moved to Paris in the 1990s where his series The Migration of the Superheroes was twice exhibited at the Carrousel du Louvre, once in 2005 and again in 2007. Mays sees himself as a social critic. His work embodies ethnicity, politics, history, religion, and satire. And yes, it makes you think.
Now living back in Budapest, Klincsek decided it was time that her home city got to see Mays in person. And again, she’s quite excited. Although the art and collector circle in Budapest is not anywhere near the scale it is in Paris, there’s a curiosity in the city, an appetite for new work, and a willingness to introduce international artists to Hungarian art lovers.
As a self-confessed neophyte, I’m quite taken with this piece A Savior is Born and had I $20 000 or so to spend, it would be on my wall. I’m even more enthralled by Cosmic Cloud, a piece that took me places and gave me lots to think about. I’m hoping these two will be included in Mays’ Budapest debut. Think outside the box – an Ealy Mays retrospective 1987-2017, showcasing 30 years of his work, opens at the Pintér Gallery (Falk Miska Utca 10) on 20 July and runs until the end of the month, Monday to Friday, 10 am to 6pm and Saturdays, 10 am to 2pm.
I’m looking forward to meeting the artist in person; I believe he will be in attendance most days. I’m also looking forward to seeing Brzoska and Klincsek in action. Their passion, their drive, and their determination in promoting Mays’ work is admirable. He’s fortunate indeed to have two great women behind him.
First published in the Budapest Times 7 July 2017